As part of LGIU Ireland’s series that examines the work of NOAC (the National Oversight and Audit Commission), this publication provides an overview of the work of NOAC and introduces the key roles, responsibilities and processes for how local government oversight operates in Ireland.
- Corporate Planning in local government in Ireland – The latest briefing in the LGIU series that examines the work of the NOAC (the National Oversight and Audit Commission) in Ireland. Report number 46 was published in November 2021 and was based on a review of local authorities and regional assemblies’ corporate plans for 2019- 2024.
- Public Service Reform and NOAC – Provides a brief overview of the first national report on public service reform published by the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC).
The National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC) is the national independent oversight body for the local government sector in Ireland. Established in July 2014 under the Local Government Reform Act 2014, the role of NOAC is to provide independent oversight of the local government sector.
NOAC’s functions are wide ranging, covering all local authority activities and involving the scrutiny of performance generally and financial performance specifically. NOAC also has a role in supporting best practice, overseeing implementation of national local government policy and monitoring and evaluating implementation of corporate plans, adherence to service level agreements and public service reform by local government bodies.
Role of NOAC
NOAC’s role in relation to local government policy is to oversee how national policy is implemented by local government bodies. It should be noted that NOAC does not have a function of providing input to the development of policy for the sector and has no role in the decision around funding models or levels of funding for local authorities. NOAC’s role is to act as an oversight body.
NOAC’s statutory functions are wide, and specifically the Commission is required to;
- Scrutinise the performance of any local government body against relevant indicators as selected by NOAC or as prescribed in regulations by the Minister,
- Scrutinise financial performance, including value for money, of any local government body in respect of its financial resources,
- Support best practice (development and enhancement) in the performance by local government bodies of their functions,
- Monitor and evaluate adherence to service level agreements entered into by any local government body,
- Oversee implementation by local government bodies of national policy for the local government sector,
- Monitor and evaluate public service reform implementation by any local government body or generally,
- Monitor adequacy of corporate plans prepared by regional assemblies or local authorities and evaluate implementation of the plans by any local government body or generally,
- Take steps under its other functions for the purpose of producing any report requested by a Minister,
- Produce reports under its own initiative, in addition to requested reports and annual report requirements, and
- Carry out any additional functions that are conferred by Ministerial Order.
In implementing its mandate NOAC aims to:
Be established in its role and have forged a working relationship with its stakeholders,
- Conduct evidence based scrutiny that delivers quality, objective, balanced and relevant reports,
- Add value to the local government sector and provide recommendations to build on the efficiencies and savings delivered by the sector to date,
- Establish a collaborative approach,
- Identify and focus upon those aspects of local authority functions and activities that are important to the citizen/customer,
- Facilitate engagement around improved performance.
- Furthermore, NOAC produces an Annual Report that outlines details of all activities during the year including details of funding and expenditure which is submitted to the Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on a yearly basis. This report has been prepared since NOAC’s inception and is a statutory requirement. These Annual reports are available to the public freely and online on the NOAC website.
NOAC’s membership is statutorily prescribed as a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 9 members. However, there is provision for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government increasing by order the number of members to a maximum of 12 for a period of up to two years.
As of January 2023, NOAC has 8 members including the Chairperson. The Minister appoints the members and vacancies are publicly advertised by the Public Appointments Process. NOAC’s secretariat and ancillary services are provided by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. However, NOAC’s operations are independent as required by the legislation.
Working Groups of NOAC
NOAC has four working groups that carry out a variety of work that feeds into the overall work of NOAC and the objectives and number of these groups can be modified as the board feels is appropriate. These groups usually consist of three or four board members and are supported in their work by the Secretariat. The work of the various working groups are as follows:
Working group 1 – LG Governance, Efficiency and Reform
The role of the Local Government Governance, Efficiency and Reform Working Group is to assist in NOAC’s functions under section 126C (1) (d), (e), (f) and (g) of the Local Government Reform Act 2014. Specifically the working group would:
- Monitor and evaluate adherence to any agreement in the nature of a service level agreement entered into by one or more local government bodies,
- Oversee how national policy in relation to local government is implemented by local government bodies,
- Monitor and evaluate the implementation of public service reform by local government bodies, and
- Monitor the adequacy of the corporate plan prepared by a Regional Assembly and by a Council.
Working group 2- Performance Indicators
The role of the Performance Indicator working group is to oversee the production of an annual report on local authority performance indicators. Its work mainly relates to section 126C of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 and includes reviewing the performance indicators and appropriate guidance for local authorities, determining the verification process that should be applied to the submitted data and drafting NOAC’s commentary on the compiled data, as well as any follow-up functions that may be required. This data can be used to compare and contrast performance and is key in producing the individual NOAC Scrutiny Reports of Local Authorities.
Working group 3- Communications and Customer Survey
The role of the Communications and Customer Survey Working group is to carry out NOAC’s functions under section 126C (1) (a) of the Local Government Reform Act 2014. That is, to scrutinise local authority performance against relevant indicators that relate to customer service and under section 126C (1) (c) to support the development and enhancement of best practice. The group is committed to delivering on the activities or functions that should be the subject of surveys and also develops requests for proposals, reviews and questionnaires. Additionally, it interacts with external stakeholders, in particular, through its branding and communication such as through the Good Practice Seminar which is held annually.
Working group 4- Financial Management and Performance
The work of the Financial Management and Performance Working Group relates to NOAC’s functions under section 126C. (1) (b), (e) and (f) of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 to
- Scrutinise financial performance including relating to value for money,
- To oversee how national policy in relation to local government is implemented by local government bodies,
- To monitor and evaluate the implementation of public service reform by local government bodies.
- Additionally, the group collates and prepares the annual Local Government Quality Assurance Report under the Public Spending Code.
Key work carried out by NOAC
NOAC has carried out a significant volume of work in 2022 such as hosting a Corporate Planning event, an Audit Committee workshop and engaging with elected member representative groups. It also carries out key work that assists in analysing the performance of the local government sector as laid out below:
Scrutiny meetings with Local Authorities
As well as its standard work in relation to publishing a variety of reports on local authority activity and service delivery, NOAC reviews the individual performance of Local Authorities in accordance with its statutory functions under the Local Government reform Act 2014. This key NOAC process began in February 2017 and, so far, NOAC has completed 21 such reports with more to be completed as part of a continuous process.
These individual performance reviews of Local Authorities are called Scrutiny Reports and, currently, involve a two stage process of meetings between NOAC and the local authority in question. They allow for direct engagement with local authorities to address areas of underperformance and flag areas of high performance which can be shared with other local authorities, via the freely available published Scrutiny reports, the NOAC Good Practice Seminar or other avenues, thus improving the overall national performance in the sector and encouraging a virtuous cycle of information sharing
The stages of the process are:
- Stage 1 – typically involves a face to face meeting with the Chief Executive and some of the Management team of the Local Authority with the Chair of NOAC and the Secretariat.
- Stage 2 – is a meeting between the Chief Executive and some of the Management team of the Local Authority with the full NOAC board and allows for an opportunity for questions on the Local Authority and its operations.
As part of these reports, NOAC draws up a comprehensive profile of that particular local authority which analyses data obtained from the various reports that NOAC has undertaken and other available information including data from performance indicators reports, Local Government Audit Service audit reports, private rented sector inspections report, customer service satisfaction surveys and any other data considered relevant. The data collected is used to look at trends as well as compare how Local Authorities are doing nationally.
The process gives NOAC the opportunity to have oversight of all the local authorities and considers the factors that facilitates them in performing well, along with the barriers that may exist relevant to the individual local authority. The meetings enable the local authorities to outline their strong and weak performing areas. It allows for further examination of the results of the performance indicators, as well as other sources of data, and shows the results in context. The engagement with local authorities allows NOAC to highlight areas of underperformance which can be examined further and allows for exemplars of best practice to be identified and used to share with other local authorities and possibly be highlighted in the NOAC Annual Good Practice in Local Government Seminar.
The minutes of all the meetings and any presentations are included within the Scrutiny Reports which are available on the NOAC website. Additionally, a Master Report is also produced which outlines the details of the scrutiny process up to that date.
NOAC Annual Good Practice in Local Government Seminar
NOAC hosted its fifth Good Practice in Local Government seminar, in conjunction with the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) and CCMA, in October 2022 in Kilkenny Castle. The Seminar is a key event for both NOAC and local authorities to come meet, present and discuss areas and projects of good practice which can improve the lives of people in their communities as well as allow for the potential to apply exemplar projects in local authorities. The 2022 event, was held as part of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s (DEPR) Innovation week which further raised the profile of the event.
The event in 2022 was a hybrid event with attendees invited in person or to the on line event. It showcased a range of local authority innovations across complex and interesting areas such as drones, GDPR, building sustainable communities, providing solutions for cyber threats, encouraging the sharing of IT solutions, vulnerable persons in the community and the Ukrainian crisis.
Details of all the projects showcased are included in a summary note further in the report under Highlights and Activities. Video clips of all the speakers and projects can be found here.
NOAC Performance Indicator Report
NOAC published the eighth annual report on Performance Indicators in November 2022. In the NOAC Local Authority Performance Indicator Report 2021, NOAC examined 42 indicators under 11 headings in order to provide objective information on their performance and which allows local authorities to view where they are performing well and to review any areas where performance could be improved upon. These indicators record local authority activity in relation to certain aspects of their wide-ranging functions. This report will be covered more extensively by LGIU shortly as part of our on-going series of briefings on the publications of NOAC.
The indicators are collected and analysed by the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) on behalf of the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC) as part of the Commission’s role in monitoring the performance of local authorities.
To ensure that the performance indicators are valid and reliable, a thorough approach is taken to collating and analysing the data: Performance indicators are consistently measured across each local authority, to enable comparison and track changes over time. On-going monitoring of indicators is also undertaken by NOAC in consultation with the County and City Management Association (CCMA) and the LGMA. When considering proposed changes to an indicator, an assessment is made on the potential impact on the trend analysis over time.
Detailed guidelines are provided annually, and a workshop is hosted by NOAC and the LGMA to ensure staff are fully informed about any new indicators or changes to existing indicators. Furthermore, there is collation of additional datasets from external sources such as the Residential Tenancies Board, the Road Management Office, Enterprise Ireland, etc
NOAC also validates and audits the data in question through site visits with local authorities and desktop data reviews undertaken by the NOAC Secretariat. In 2022, six indicators and local authorities were selected for review and six in-person validation visits to local authorities took place.
As part of the process, NOAC reviews the indicators each year, determines whether they require refinement or clarification and introduces new indicators, where appropriate. Accordingly, in 2021 two additional indicators were identified along with revisions to four existing indicators. Currently, all new indicators are tested in the first year when the data is collected and once tested and reviewed for suitability, they will form part of future reports.
With access to such an extensive body of data and performance-based information, local authorities themselves can use the results to streamline their processes where necessary, monitor various areas of performance more accurately, and understand their results on a deeper, more individual level to enable a process of continuous improvement. Not only does this information enable local authorities to track their performance over time, it assists them to compare their performance with other local authorities of a similar profile and size. Evidence of good practice and transfer of learning is a useful conduit for NOAC to encourage and promote best practice. Equally, the information contained within the report is relevant to the various Government Departments working with local authorities, and to the wider public, who are impacted by the quality of their local authority service delivery.
Furthermore, this report is one of the key sources of information for the scrutiny process carried out by NOAC which looks at the performance of individual local authorities and compares that performance nationally.
NOAC Public Spending Code Report
The Public Spending Code was developed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) and it applies to all public bodies in receipt of public funds. All Irish public bodies are obliged to treat public funds with care, and to ensure that the best possible value for money is obtained whenever public money is being spent or invested.
As local authority funding derives from a number of sources, including grants from several Government Departments, the Chief Executives of individual local authorities are responsible for carrying out quality assurance requirements.
NOAC is statutorily obliged to scrutinise financial performance, including in relation to value-for-money, of any local government body in respect of its financial resources and to support best practice (development and enhancement) in the performance of their functions by local government bodies. NOAC reviews the Quality Assurance Reports received from each of the 31 local authorities for compliance with the process i.e. timeliness of submission of the report and whether the required material is included. NOAC compiles the material and publishes a Public Spending Code Report on its website on an annual basis. The completed report is also sent to DPER and the Joint Oireachtas Commission (JOC).
How the report is completed
In February each year, NOAC writes to the Chief Executives of each of the 31 local authorities, with regard to Quality Assurance Reporting under the Public Spending Code requirements. The CCMA Guidance Note for the Local Government Sector on the Public Spending Code (PSC) Quality Assurance Requirements and DPER Checklist and Inventory are included with the letter, and instructions on how the returns should be completed. The deadline for submission of material to NOAC by local authorities is generally the end of May each year. Local authorities complete an Inventory, In Depth Checks and a Checklist in respect of Quality Assurance reporting.
A Compliance Checklist for the Report includes the following –
- Step 1: Project Inventories
- Step 2: Online Publication of Summary Information of all Procurements in excess of €10 million
- Step 3: 7 Checklists completed
- Step 4: In-Depth Check on selected projects/programmes
- Step 5: Summary Report
Local authorities submit material to NOAC and it is reviewed, verified and compiled. Then, the Report is reviewed and signed off by the Financial Management and Performance Working Group of NOAC and by the NOAC Board.
The Report is published on the NOAC website and submitted to DPER and the JOC.